Sunday, 25 October 2009

Bible Sunday Mark 10.46-end 25th October 2009

It’s Bible Sunday. This morning we have a reminder that there are really two tables at which we feast on Christ: the table of the Word of God and the table of the Blessed Sacrament.

Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God our Saviour said as he was strengthened by the memory of his Father’s word in the desert. All scripture is breathed out by God, Paul says to Timothy, scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Christians believe in the Bible, because we believe in its ultimate authorship. It contains the promises of God which cannot fail. We believe in the Bible out of love for its ultimate author. The words of scripture are there because Jesus is the Word of God through whom all things were made. The scriptures bless us. The Holy Spirit who inspired their writing can inspire us as we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them.

Yet, sad to say, without the Holy Spirit who leads the church forward into all truth (John 16:13) the scriptures fall on deaf ears.

The Bible is God’s Word in our words. It’s also the family album of the church tracing God’s action back to our first days. Christians believe in the Bible but look to the church to guide them to its truth.

What about the factual errors and inconsistencies people say they find in the Bible? We don’t need to defend the Bible here because we have God’s promise that it contains the truth necessary for our salvation. This doesn’t make the Bible, for example, a science text book because it addresses the why questions more than the how questions in life.

Approached with humility the Bible brings spiritual encouragement. Approached with argumentative pride it presents a different picture. Christians believe the Bible can’t be mistaken as it presents the good news of Jesus to honest seekers.

It’s true there are difficult passages. Mark Twain said pointedly it wasn’t the passages of the bible he didn’t understand that troubled him so much as the passages he did understand! On Bible Sunday we salute God’s word and pledge to heed it more profoundly with our lives.

People mention sometimes the violence in the Bible especially parts of the Old Testament. The church uses these passages carefully and only in the light of Christ who fulfils the Old Testament. The sacrifices offered in the Old Testament point towards the meaning of the Cross as the fulfilment of the scriptures.

When we say as we shall say in a moment ‘on the third day he rose again’ we add ‘in accordance with the scriptures’. Without the framework of God’s dealings with Israel in the Bible the Christ of the Gospels would be a beautiful picture but one without a frame. His entry into history would be one unprepared and unexpected.

Through the Bible God’s people welcome this frame for all that Jesus stands for as well as the word and promises of God that bring power and direction into the life of the church.

If the Bible to do its work in us, then the starting point is to somehow get the words of the Bible into us. Once God’s word is in our lives it can start to challenge our values and opinions, to set off the process Paul calls ‘the renewing of your mind’ so that we will not ‘conform’ ourselves to this world, but let God 'transform' us (Romans 12.2).

So what can we do to get more into the Bible and more of the Bible into us?

You could make it the basis for a daily or maybe occasional special prayer time. Dedicate a time. It needn’t be first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It could be part of your lunchtime routine, a way of getting away from the desk. Choose a portion for study, maybe Mark’s Gospel which takes an hour and a half in total to read for an average reader. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you miss a few days. If reading the Bible is difficult, why not buy one of the readily available CD or MP3 recording and listen to that?

You have the texts of the Sunday readings to take away each week with the thoughts on them given by the preacher. If you miss Church on a Sunday you can check the church website for the readings and sermon. This is an opportunity to thank our web master David Ollington for his work on keeping the site updated week by week.

There are some bibles at the back of Church if people want to use them when they come to pray in Church. Each of us, or each family, should ideally have a bible in modern translation. The New Revised Standard or New International Version are in wide use. There is also a very popular American paraphrase called The Message that folk are finding helpful. Buying a new modern translation can be a helpful tool to awaken us to the meaning of the original text, the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament.

You could subscribe to Bible study notes. I have listed some resources in the news sheet. There are a few taster copies at the back of church today of Bible Alive, Closer to God and Every Day with Jesus

You could join St Giles weekly bible study, the Tuesday 1.30pm Life and Faith discussion group which is currently looking through the Acts of the Apostles. We have more group Bible study planned during the coming year especially in Lent.

In all of these ways we can develop our understanding of how to apply the teaching of God and his church in today’s world through reflecting on what the Bible says and how best to respond in our situation.

I want to use my remaining time to demonstrate how one might look prayerfully through a scripture passage using today’s Gospel from Mark Chapter 10 verses 46-52. Let’s have another look at this passage.

Look at v46: As Jesus left Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (that is, the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road.

1) Holy Land Geography meant Galileans coming to Jerusalem Feasts came through Jericho to avoid Samaria

2) Jesus approaches his Passion of 20 pages of Mark's Gospel 10 are about Holy Week & Jesus' suffering, death & resurrection. Chapters 1 10 set the scene for Chs. 11 16 and our passage is the last word before Palm Sunday

3) The large crowd were no doubt drawn not just to Jerusalem for Passover Feast but drawn to travel with Jesus to Jerusalem.

4) The preoccupation of Jesus with his coming Passion...the last few days of teaching before His saving action...the pressing in of the all of this Jesus is open to the Spirit drawing him to stop and give his all to one needy person...Bartimaeus son of Timaeus.

Wonder at the availability of the God Jesus shows us...

v47 8 second paragraph: When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and to say, 'Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.' And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, 'Son of David, have pity on me.

1) Join with Bartimaeus with his special gift of faith in hailing Jesus as who He is, the 'Son of David', the Messiah, the One promised in the Old Testament who would bring in God's rule over all evil. The One Isaiah said would 'open the eyes of the blind'.

2) 'Have pity on me'. Can I join with Bartimaeus in that cry to Jesus? The prayer of the lips has to become the prayer of the heart. Only when I admit my need for God deep down can He fill me deep down - however many times I pray with my lips...

3) Note the determination and persistence shown by Bartimaeus. He wasn’t messing around with the Lord He meant business. Have you got business with God this morning? Facing Jesus means facing yourself and all that falls short in your life, your relationships, your sin.... Yet the Lord has deep compassion. Our sins are but dust before Him.

Read v49 52 last paragraph: Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him here'. So they called the blind man, 'Courage’, they said, ‘get up; he is calling you'. So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus. Then Jesus spoke, 'What do you want me to do for you?' 'Rabbuni', the blind man said to him, 'Master, let me see again'. Jesus said to him, 'Go; your faith has saved you.' And immediately his sight returned and he followed him along the road.

1) Notice the eagerness and openness in that action of throwing off the cloak. Much of Christian discipleship is a matter of 'throwing off the cloak'. Facing God, letting God into areas of our life He knows full well about but needs our permission. It's up to us not Him to reveal ourselves, to cast off our cloak bit by bit for the healing work of the divine mercy.

2) Jesus said to him, 'What do you want me to do for you?' What a blind beggar in front of him and Jesus asks 'What do you want me to do for you?'? Jesus in this testing question might have been making a final check on whether Bartimaeus really wanted to lose his blindness it was after all a source of income. If we want to be healed we must be prepared to face the consequences – for Bartimaeus it would mean earning his own keep rather than begging...

Bartimaeus gained access to a greater beauty than physical sight can show us, the beauty of Jesus in his fullness as Lord and Saviour.

This Bible passage was written nearly 2000 years ago about Bartimaeus and Jesus. If we have welcomed the Holy Spirit this passage is seen to be really about God and I.

I am Bartimaeus in need of sight and light on my life's journey.

I am Bartimaeus persistent in prayer, determined to get what God wants for me.

I am Bartimaeus ready to throw off the cloak of pretentiousness and open my life to the Lord.

And if I am Bartimaeus Jesus is the Son of God, the same yesterday, today and always.

He is present right now as he was in Jericho and is willing and capable of flooding my soul with Light, Glorious Light.

Let us turn our thoughts into quiet prayer as we digest the word of God this morning

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Ecumenical healing service on St Luke’s Day

Colossians 1.3-6

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is the present and it is a healing present from the Lord if we will but accept Him in this moment, in this healing hour.

From yesterday Christians receive apostolic teaching and ministry. We’re here to celebrate Saint Luke and the apostolic call to healing which his Feast recalls.
From tomorrow when God will be all in all we receive by anticipation a touch from heaven. Whenever Christians gather they bring their Lord into their midst and the healing touch of the heavenly kingdom.

So as we read God’s word this evening from Colossians chapter one we welcome it with Paul as indeed the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to us (v5). Good news that’s not in words alone but which comes down to this day, forwarded through the centuries, with healing power. There is no word of God without power!

Then as Paul also says to the Colossians we should be grateful because of the hope laid up for us in heaven (v5). Because Our Lord is the same yesterday, today and for ever this hope has impact right now so that the apostle continues, saying this hope is bearing fruit among us from the day we heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God (v6).

The healing power of Christ flows forward to us this evening from the cross and resurrection by the teaching of the apostles handed down and backwards to us from heaven where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more for the first things have passed away (Revelation 21.4).

God loves us and wants us well. Let’s not doubt it. God’s perfect will for us is health of body, mind and spirit.

This is what Jesus showed us in the days of his flesh. Saint Luke hands on from the Lord to us this truth, as in Chapter 9 of his Gospel in verse 11 where he tells us that crowds followed Jesus; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.
God’s ultimate design for healing shines back at us simultaneously from heaven, so to speak, when we ponder the last chapters of the Bible from which I just read.

Our Father loves us, Jesus says, and he wants us well. This is Saint Luke’s witness and it’s to be our experience in Horsted Keynes tonight as we gather together around God’s word with quiet confidence in the power of God’s promises.

I would say that there is an extra element of blessing due to us tonight at a service across denominations. That is the blessing expressed in Psalm 133: Behold how good and how lovely it is: when brothers and sisters live together in unity…For there the Lord has commanded his blessing: which is life for evermore (v1,4)

For Christians to unite together in faithfulness to God’s word, to pray as we are doing this evening with confidence in what he has promised and humility before his provision, this is very powerful indeed.

All the graces we receive as Pentecostals, Anglicans or Roman Catholics do not come from ourselves or our denominations but from God through Christ in the Spirit.

Our greatest resource as Christians is the sense we have of our baptism, the sense of our need for cleansing from sin and refreshing in the Spirit. This unites us – our need for forgiveness and healing and our openness to receive from Jesus.

This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper. Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

The supper we have celebrated today around different tables anticipates the same heavenly marriage supper that lies ahead. The healing we claimed in Holy Communion today has no denominational allegiance.

So tonight we bless oil to be used ‘ecumenically’. As we do so we put faith in the Lord to act as our healer. Has he not invited us in his word to anoint the sick and needy?

When Our Lord came to earth he worked with St Joseph in a carpenter’s shop. He knew how to mend what was broken. In his 30th year he went to the Jordan where heaven opened and God revealed himself in a voice and a Dove. This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

The sky got torn so heaven showed itself to earth. It got torn as Jesus came and it stayed torn as Jesus ministered, died and rose again. Tonight there remains in Jesus something of a gap in the heavens. O Saving victim opening wide the gate of heaven to man below. Our foes press hard on every side. Thine aid supply, thy strength bestow!

Yesterday, today and tomorrow come together in Jesus who is the same yesterday, today and for ever (Hebrews 13v8).

So in this present moment, at this evening hour, the Saviour is present to us, present to forgive, to heal, to deliver. He will honour your faith and mine, the faith that has come down to us from the apostles and which anticipates and brings into today the joys of the world to come.

Our Father loves us and wants us well. Do you believe it? Exercise your faith tonight. Comprehend, grasp the grace of God! Reach out to the Lord and let him reach out to you from heaven to bring you a touch of the healing that is to be yours in its fullness one day. The hope laid up for us in heaven …that is bearing fruit among us in Horsted Keynes!

Trinity 19 What Jesus does for us 18 October 2009

What does Jesus do for us?

What does it mean for us as he says in today’s gospel that he came to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10.45)?

There are three main Christian doctrines – the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Atonement. This morning the readings centre on this last doctrine, Atonement, how God and humanity are made one by what Jesus does for us.

How do we understand this making God one with us that Our Lord achieves?

More importantly how do we not only understand the doctrine but see it taking effect so that we know God not just only as our maker but as our saviour?

These are questions that spill out of all three scriptures this morning.

The Isaiah 53 passage was chosen to illuminate the text I read from Mark 10.45 at the end of today’s gospel. There Jesus makes a prediction of his coming Passion which pours cold water on the arrogance of James and John who thought their Lord was going to take worldly power and wanted part of his worldly glory. No, Our Lord says, my kingdom will be built from suffering service. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.

In saying this Jesus was identifying himself with the Suffering Servant figure described in an Old Testament passage that was up to that point rather obscure. Everyone thought, and the Jews to this day think, that God’s Messiah, his chosen servant who would bring in the end of the world, would come in power and majesty. Already though the blueprint for God’s saving purpose was written out in this obscure passage, the 53rd chapter of the prophet Isaiah which Jesus knew by heart and was to act out from the heart.

As the Lord thought ahead to what was ahead for him as Messiah this was the passage he picked up and the church has picked up ever since as the best description of what Jesus does for us.

Let’s look at the passage. It’s the second half of verse 11that Our Lord picks up in the Gospel reading. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and shall bear their iniquities. Look back to the beginning of the passage and you’ll recognise the prediction of Our Lord’s Passion written by Isaiah eight centuries before Christ. Let’s read verses 5 and 6: But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah foresaw the lonely figure on Calvary who would bear the immense burden of sin separating human beings from their maker and how that sin bearing would cost the suffering servant his life like a lamb that is led to the slaughter. The passage hints at the tomb of Jesus given by the rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, verse 9, they made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich. It concludes with a prophecy of the resurrection, verse 12. Let’s read it. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus himself gave no explanation of how his death and rising again made atonement other than to point to this scripture. Only after his resurrection did his followers reflect more fully upon what Jesus did and does for us as Saviour.

So we can move on to the second reading by the anonymous author of the letter to the Hebrews. Here in this letter is the best source of teaching in scripture on the doctrine of the Atonement. This teaching centres on the priesthood of Christ by which Jesus takes what he did on Calvary and pleads it for all time in heaven. It’s this his pleading that we join to at the Eucharist.

Today’s small section of Hebrews is from chapter 5. Let’s read verse 1: Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin.

Priests have a ministry of representing mortals to the immortal God and the immortal God to mortals. The passage goes on to outline how Christ was appointed high priest by God but with full sympathy for humanity. He is the Son of God become Son of Man. In this passage we see graphic evidence of Christ’s humanity. It’s a powerful account actually of the passion of Our Lord that begins with his tears in the Garden of Gethsemane. It provides one of the most moving evidences in the bible of how deeply Jesus engaged with our pain and sorrow.

Let’s read this account in verse 7: In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

What does Jesus do for us?

He shows us God sharing our loud cries and tears in reverent submission. Jesus shows us a God who expects nothing from us he’s not prepared to go through. But he shows us much more. He shows us God’s love and holiness, our need of them both and how we can attain to both.

Our Lord brings us atonement. He makes a way for the God of love and holiness to be one with us in our dignity and frailty.

This morning’s gospel reading should be read in context. In this Year B of the Lectionary we’re coming to the end of Mark’s Gospel, the second Gospel in the New Testament. On Advent Sunday we begin a new Church year by starting St Luke. This morning’s reading from Mark 10 is almost the last before the passion narrative in St Mark. Do read the whole gospel yourself. It takes an hour and a half for the average reader. This morning’s reading is on the hinge between Christ’s teaching and his atoning work. It has Jesus saying in one powerful verse what he is doing on earth at all. He is come as God’s Son to give his life a ransom for many.

In giving himself he does so in costly love. He does so on account of the requirements of God’s holiness. He does so because only by the Cross and its pleading for ever in the heavenly sanctuary can women and men be won to glory.

When we look at the Cross we see four things.

We see the love of God fully displayed.

We see the holiness of God in his hatred of sin. The Cross shows what sin feels like to God.

We see our dignity because this act of atonement is given to rescue us for eternal glory.

We see our frailty. Where else do we see the terrible consequences of our sin?

It was no accident or mistake that brought Our Lord to the Cross. It was as Isaiah and the author of Hebrews explain the countering of our going astray. If human disobedience was no great thing why would God who made us and wants his life and glory for us have to confront it as he did? Human disobedience, yours and mine, confronted by perfect goodness crucifies him. The ‘I’ll do it my way’ attitude makes the Atonement as costly as it is.

The doctrine of the Atonement is an awesome mystery. We will never fully understand the doctrine but that won’t stop us seeing it take effect in our lives so that we know God not just as our maker but as our saviour.

How does it effect our lives?

The Cross is once and for all but Jesus lives as eternal high priest to plead its benefits. Inasmuch as we repent of our sins and trust Jesus all that he has done for us comes into operation in our lives bringing forgiveness, healing, deliverance and freedom in the Spirit.

As verse 9 of the Hebrews Chapter 4 passage states Jesus has become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. What is salvation other than an eternal relationship with God sealed on his side by love and ours by the obedience of faith.

Yes all that Jesus does for us comes to us as we obey. That means as we seek to direct our time, talents, treasure, gifts, energies towards what God wants. Faith isn’t a feeling it’s obedience, costly surrender. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done is the prayer of Christian faith and it means an obedient overcoming of self will that’s day by day, hour by hour.

It has its beginning in baptism, which is our great ‘yes’ to God and ‘no’ to self. It has its end in the vision of God face to face with the selfless adoration of all the saints.

The good news of Christianity is very simple.

God made us for friendship. Sin became a barrier to that friendship. God sent Jesus to lift away that barrier making us friends of God.

Things get between us and God so that we’re not at one. Sin, fear, sickness, bondage, anxiety, death and the devil get in the way. Jesus brings atonement – at one ment literally – because what he did in his coming, his suffering, death and resurrection has established the means to overcome these evils - if we use them. That means that the words we read today in Isaiah he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases come true when we trust his healing power. When we read he bore the sins of many that can become true in our experience when we seek his forgiveness and become one of the many who’re made one with God through Jesus.

Atonement isn’t just a doctrine it’s a way of life. It’s living one to one, heart to heart with God.

This is what Jesus does for us. It’s here this morning because what happened once for all on the Cross can become operative in our lives as we surrender our lives to the Jesus who says again to us This is my body given for you, my blood shed for you. Here those words in your heart’s depth this morning. As we sang: Because the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free; for God the Just is satisfied to look on him and pardon me…the Lord most High has bowed down low and poured on me his glorious love.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Harvest Festival Encouraging the Church in Guyana's Interior 11th October 2009

This Sunday our theme is one of thanks for the fruits of the earth – our harvest festival.

We’re showing our gratitude to God by giving to others. As we gather round the Lord’s table this morning we do so with produce that will support families in need across Sussex. Our harvest lunch raises funds for a needy part of the church overseas, the Diocese of Guyana in South America.

Anne and I worked there as USPG missionaries twenty years ago and the family have been back three times on extended visits. I served as Theological College Principal in Guyana helping train Amerindian priests for the interior of that land near the Brazilian border. They serve some of the toughest parishes in the whole of the Anglican Communion, with Churches accessible often only after weeks of paddling up creeks and hacking one's way through bush and jungle.

Do not worry about your life says the harvest gospel reading from Matthew 6.25.

This morning on Harvest Festival the Church reminds us that our whole life, past, present and future is in God's hands. To be truly grateful is to believe that God is in control of our lives and the life of the world.

A Christian is someone who is able to see the hand of God behind everything. We have faith to see that we come from God, belong to God, go to God.

At harvest we recall this faith, that helps us rise above worry, and we look outwards to the needy. Anne, James and I are delighted that the PCC agreed to make a new overseas mission focus supporting the mission of the Anglican church in our old home in Guyana’s tropical rainforest. Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the world. Because of our personal links there is an opportunity to make a real difference there. We also hope to arrange visits in years to come to the Amerindian communities we have served and keep in touch with.

This is especially timely with the consecration of a new Bishop, Cornell Moss, in December, which opens up a new chapter in the Anglican mission there.

20 years ago I served as Theological College Principal training up Amerindian priests. In the indigenous communities of Guyana parishioners live 'around the cooking pot'. Money is in use, but much of the economy relies on age-old barter from hunting, fishing and handicraft. Harvest festival was the main source of income for the church.

Anne and I well remember the harvest festivals in the church at Yupukari where we were married in and in which we first worshipped together. I recall one where a sheep was tethered to the altar and was slaughtered afterwards so that the village ate meat afterwards for the first time in weeks.

Do not worry about your life the Lord says.

In the deep rain forest of Guyana the natives may have less possessions but they have few worries. When I was planning a week’s trip up river to a remote mission I could ask my boatman to take me at very short notice. It took him five minutes to pack - a toothbrush, a bar of soap and a spare pair of underpants was all he needed with his hammock. I took far longer to gather my tackle - mosquito net, insect repellent, books to read, torches, toilet paper (they used leaves), tins of food, sun hat, mass kit, vestments, short wave radio for the BBC World Service..the list could go on!

The Indians tell a tale of the Amazon a few hundred miles south of Guyana. There was a shipwreck off the Brazilian Coast and some of the men managed to survive on a life raft. They drifted for two weeks by which time they were pretty well dying of thirst. Eventually they encountered a boat and were hauled aboard. The crew were surprised the men were thirsty. You see they were drifting by then across the mouth of the Amazon River, the largest fresh water source upon the earth.

Sometimes we are literally resting like those sailors upon the answer to our problems.

Do not worry about your life the Lord says.

God’s Spirit is always with us like streams of fresh water welling up within us. When worry dries us up the Holy Spirit is at hand to refresh us and here is the place above all places to welcome the Spirit through God’s word and through the body of Jesus given to us in the sacrament.

Only our unbelief stops us acting as if God were with us, just as the ignorance of those sailors kept them thirsty when they were floating on fresh water.

Let’s keep silence as we prepare at this Eucharist to entrust ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice through Christ to the Father.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Trinity 17 Enhancing our buildings 4th October 2009

I want to think with you this morning about enhancing our buildings.

This is the last of a three part sermon series on the priorities we identified in July at our thinking day at which those present identified three priorities:
Renewing our worship
Engaging with youth and families
Enhancing our buildings

If your memories are good you may recall a similar threesome which we looked at before the thinking day – the ABC of the diocesan Life Together vision. Remember?

Attending to God
Building Christian community
Commending God’s love for the world

God is calling us to work for what is upward in renewing worship, who’s around as we gather, young and old into Christian community, and who’s out there as we work to commend God’s love in action and words and through our buildings.

We are wonderfully blessed in Horsted Keynes to have our worship sheltered, by this beautiful building that has heard God’s praise for over 30 generations. Keeping the House of God in good repair so that it is passed on to the next generation is a prime responsibility of mine and yours.

Our buildings, Church and the Martindale, are a given and we aim to make pragmatic adjustments to them in the name of Christian priorities. They need enhancing to meet the evolving needs and expectations, which goes beyond their necessary maintenance.

Bricks and mortar aren’t in the gospel overmuch. Christianity travelled light to begin with. What mattered was the Christian formation of individuals and families within God’s family.

Today’s scripture, for example, from Genesis 2 and Mark 10 sets forth marriage as God’s building block for human society. It has our Saviour Jesus Christ blessing children. A Christian society depends on the faithfulness of husbands and wives and on their faithful love for their children. It depends on the commitment of people to God, the Christian community and the needs of the world.

ABC – commitment to God, the Church and the world – these are priorities to clothe with Christian buildings! Trouble is the buildings are already there, which is not the ideal, and we have to develop them without ruining them!

I’ve been set up by our Thinking Day and the PCC’s desire to forward its three aims to speak this morning of our buildings and how we can enhance them.

Here goes then, and I hope we don’t stray too far from the readings we’re digesting on this 17th Sunday after Trinity!

Enhancing our buildings came down to two main priorities – a toilet for St Giles and refurbishing the Martindale.

There are other buildings we’re linked to. I spoke about Saint Giles’ School two weeks ago in the context of Engaging with youth and families. Then there’s the Parish Hall which stands on land belonging to the Diocese. There’s not much we as a parish can engage with on that account, save making sure any development of the Martindale complements the Parish Hall.

Firstly, then, a word about the proposal for a church toilet. As you know we already have access to the school toilet at this service but it’s quite a long way away. There are also occasions like funerals during term time when we cannot easily use the school toilet.

The annual cost of maintaining Saint Giles Church averaged out over the last ten years is in the order of £12,500. Our parish share is, additionally, around £50,000. Overall expenses are just short of £100,000 which is a lot for a church with Sunday adult attendance just over 50. Finding the extra £50-100,000 we’d need for the toilet would be a challenge but if it is in God’s plan it will bring with it God’s provision.

Every five years church is inspected under diocesan regulations and we are completing the repairs recommended in the 2007 inspection. You should shortly see the porch painted which will greatly enhance access to our church. Other areas due for painting are in the Lady Chapel, Crossing and above the High Altar where damp penetration has now been overcome. The Tower bell frame is to be further stabilised. The Sacristy and Choir Vestry are being renewed to be more fit for purpose. There are shingles to be replaced on the spire. All of these agreed repairs should be covered from designated funds.

The PCC agree with the consensus of the Thinking Day. We aim to raise funds in the medium term to enhance Saint Giles by installing a toilet and refreshment facilities beyond the north door by the font. All church growth theorists, and I was a church growth guru before coming here, all church growth theorists say that however awesome, intriguing and accessible worship is in a building three things will affect attendance. These are car parking, church heating and toilets. It makes sense for us to work on what’s missing here and so enhance this beautiful House of God by making it more accessible to young and old.

Secondly the PCC is working on the best way to develop the Martindale. We picked up the feeling expressed clearly on 5th July that having a church property situated near the middle of the village is a vital mission resource that we should develop to the best of our ability. Such enhancement would serve to make more of a meeting place and to build occasions where church members and non church members meet for a common purpose, such as the Wednesday toddler group and the Thursday coffee morning. In thinking and planning ahead the Martindale committee are aware that the success of any enhancement will depend on the emergence of ventures and leaders allied to Martindale use that are for the good of our community.

The vision needs broadening and promoting if the enhancement is to be useful. We don’t want St Giles left with a facility no one wants to use.

May I commend these two building enhancement schemes at this stage to your prayers?

We need to land a clearer forward plan as well as the human and financial resources to implement them. God willing there’ll be some specific proposals to put to the church and the village around the end of this year.

In reflecting on this third priority of enhancing our buildings the scripture readings for today look at first sight unpromising. What have the Genesis account of marriage and Our Lord’s reiteration of it and commending of children to do with our buildings? A few steps removed, certainly, but there is the business of recovering the main things and making the main things again the main things.

In Our Lord’s day we heard how a man was allowed to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce his wife. Jesus takes us back to first principles and restates the principle, neglected then and certainly neglected now, that marriage is unbreakable in God’s eyes. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.

What we are about at Saint Giles is setting priorities as best we can. We have seen some things that we need to major on – renewing worship, engaging with youth and families, enhancing buildings – and this morning has been an occasion to state those principles more loudly so to speak. As a Church we are being called back to these tasks just as the Jews of Jesus’ day were called back by him to a view of marriage they’d lost sight of.

Another Spirit given connection between Thinking Day priorities and the scriptures this morning might be in the importance of using our buildings to strengthen marriage and family life which are just as much under threat today as they were in the Palestine of Our Lord. The provision of toilets is another move towards family friendliness in our worship. Thinking ahead on the Martindale we could see ourselves, with renewed facilities, being in a position to run marriage enrichment and parenting courses which benefit not just church members but the whole community.

Enhanced church buildings in Horsted Keynes would create spaces that better serve to engage families in worship and training in marriage and family life.

I’ve talked about the need to keep the main things the main things. On the ABC model the main thing of the three main things is Attending to God

The St Giles, Horsted Keynes main priorities are similarly headed by renewing worship.

Our worship and attending to God is both corporate and individual. The quality of this Eucharist is the summation of what the church membership aspires to as we offer our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice. Similarly the quality of our individual spiritual life is enriched by coming together in the way we do to hear God’s word and unite our own spiritual sacrifices with the Sacrifice of Christ. We can’t plead Christ’s Sacrifice in public without admitting his purchase on our lives.

When it comes to discerning God’s timing and provision for enhancing our buildings our individual and corporate attending to God will be pivotal.

Let’s keep the main things as the main things at St Giles by lifting up our hearts not just in Sunday Eucharist but in daily prayer, receptive to his possibilities for our lives and for our church.